Social Networking and Ethics

As a Journalism student who’s encouraged to pursue social networking sites on a regular basis for gathering information, I often wonder about the ethics of it.

Of course we’re given a 12-week crash course in ethics and law as part of our curriculum, so we know not to use deception and other unsavory means to gather information.

But even with the kind of snooping that is allowed, I often have sleepless nights wondering if it was truly worth going through certain Facebook groups and finding interviewees and then sending them personal messages. It can’t be my fault for trying to land an exclusive can it? After all a public place is a public place, be it online or otherwise. Right?

On a personal level however, it would bug me if someone contacted me on a social networking site (especially Facebook) because of my affiliation with a particular group. After all, just because I join a group that supports my ethnic heritage, it doesn’t mean that I want to give out my opinion on it. Since being a journalist means being impartial, I certainly can’t go around telling people what I think, because as they keep warning us Gen-Y(ers), what’s said and done online just might cost you a chance to move out of your parent’s basement. Plus, what if Fox News thinks I’m brilliant and wants me as one of their award-winning journalists?

But is this paranoia fair? Should we have to watch our every move or should people just mind their own business?

Take Twitter for example. When it first took off, the likes of celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher bragged about getting followers and it became known as a means to contact your favorite celebrity. This made news and understandably so. He’s a prominent figure in popular culture. Forward two years later and Ethicsvirtually any tweet on any topic by any person can be used to demonstrate something or the other by any news agency. Is it really fair to use information that someone totally unaware of where their tweet or status update or comment may end up even though they may have willingly given up their right to anonymity? Realistically speaking, only a very small number of people actually know about their rights and responsibilities as consumers and producers of social media.

Going back to my personal experience as a very careful member of Gen Y, I sometimes get very frustrated by the formality of it all.  Sometimes, I too, want to emo it up on Facebook and Twitter and complain about my many tribulations.

Yet I don’t. Besides it potentially ruining my career, I also know that there are real people reading the information I put out. And those real people will carry it to the real world where as much as I might try to run away from it, what I say will carry a very real amount of effect (either positive or more likely negative – ’cause who gossips about good news?).

This then brings back the question of ethics. Who protects the best interests of those using social networking sites? Is it up to Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues and competitors (Google+ for example) to make sure that they protect their users? Or is it up to individual users to make sure they self censor and leave nothing to chance? Or should journalists and curious (read: snoopy) consumers of social media just mind their own business and leave the sacred world of social networking alone?

alushkarajaram :


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